Iraqi security forces search a car at a checkpoint near the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad Tuesday
Iraqi security forces search a car at a checkpoint near the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad on March 27, 2012, ahead of the first regular Arab summit to be held in the Iraqi capital in over 20 years. Arab economy ministers opened talks in Baghdad on Tuesday ahead of the regional summit, aiming to ramp up tourism in the region despite the bloody crackdown in Syria. © Ali al-Saadi - AFP
Iraqi security forces search a car at a checkpoint near the heavily fortified Green Zone in Baghdad Tuesday
Wissam Keyrouz, AFP
Last updated: March 27, 2012

Arab economy ministers meet before Baghdad summit

A draft resolution on Syria to be submitted to the Arab summit in Baghdad this week urges "serious national dialogue" and calls on Syria to end violence, according to a copy obtained by AFP on Tuesday.

The Syria crisis, in which almost 10,000 people have died according to monitors in a bloody crackdown on a year-long uprising against President Bashar al-Assad, has loomed large in Baghdad as Arab officials gather for meetings that will culminate in a summit of Arab leaders on Thursday.

The summit will be the first such meeting held in Iraq in over 20 years.

The draft resolution urges the "Syrian government and all opposition factions to deal positively with the (UN-Arab League) envoy (Kofi Annan) by starting serious national dialogue."

It also calls on the Syrian opposition "to unify its ranks and prepare ... to enter into serious dialogue (with the regime) to achieve the democratic life which is demanded by the Syrian people."

And "the Syrian government should immediately stop all actions of violence and killing, protect Syrian civilians and guarantee the freedom of peaceful demonstrations for achieving demands of the Syrian people," the text says.

Arab economy, trade and finance ministers held talks on Tuesday on ramping up tourism to revitalise the region's protest-hit economies, tackling water security and organising regional responses to natural disasters.

But the agenda was overshadowed by the crisis in neighbouring Syria.

Arab foreign ministers are to meet on Wednesday, the eve of the summit, with Syria at the heart of the agenda.

"The Syrian subject will have a significant place in discussions" between foreign ministers, Arab League Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi told reporters on Tuesday.

"I think that the ministers' meeting tomorrow and the Arab summit will support" a six-point plan put forward by ex-UN chief Annan and accepted by Syrian authorities on Tuesday.

Arabi added that foreign ministers would also discuss the situation in the Palestinian territories, Somalia and Yemen, as well as "the dangers surrounding Israel's nuclear arms and the dangers weapons of mass destruction present to Arab national security."

Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari has said he expects a resolution to address Syria but added he did not think Arab leaders would call on Assad to step down.

Annan's plan includes calls for a daily two-hour humanitarian ceasefire and access to all areas affected by the fighting in Syria.

Annan was in Beijing on a trip aimed at shoring up support for his plan, after visiting Russia over the weekend and obtaining Moscow's backing for it.

Iraqi Deputy Foreign Minister Labid Abbawi said Annan's deputy, Nasser al-Qudwa, was due in Baghdad on Wednesday to brief "the summit on the latest from Kofi Annan's deliberations."

The fallout from other Arab uprisings -- which toppled dictators in Tunisia, Egypt, Libya and Yemen, and put pressure for reform on other autocratic regimes in the region -- are also to be discussed in the three days of talks in Iraq.

Despite Iraqi claims of widespread high-level representation, only six countries aside from the host dispatched ministers to take part in Tuesday's talks.

Iraqi Finance Minister Rafa al-Essawi meanwhile told journalists after the meeting on Tuesday that Iraq requested Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Qatar, Morocco and Libya cancel Baghdad's bilateral debts.

Iraq ran up massive debts, some of which have been forgiven, during the 1980-88 war with Iran.

Regional nations that revolted against their autocratic regimes suffered economically in 2011, the International Monetary Fund said in October, pointing to a "sizeable" decline in tourism, though energy-rich Gulf states were largely spared the protests.

The World Bank, meanwhile, has warned the Middle East and North Africa face "increasingly frequent droughts and a looming water supply shortage," an issue also set to be discussed in Baghdad, along with proposals for a regional alert system for natural disasters.

More than 100,000 members of Iraq's forces are providing security in the capital, and Iraq has spent upwards of $500 million to refurbish major hotels, summit venues and infrastructure.

Despite the dramatically tighter measures, a suicide bomber at a police checkpoint in west Baghdad killed one policeman and wounded two others, officials said. A week ago, Al-Qaeda attacks nationwide killed 50 people, including three who died in a car bombing opposite the foreign ministry in Baghdad.

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